Technology taking students from Warren Wilson to Panama to study climate




ASHEVILLE — Warren Wilson College’s partnership with technology developer Sun Microsystems Inc., has taken students from the Swannanoa River to the jungles of Panama.

A group of students, led by David Abernathy, chair of global studies at the college, are testing a new type of small computer that can be used to measure different environmental factors, like temperature or water quality, to better understand climate change, Abernathy said.

The sensors can send information wirelessly to each other and back to a computer.

The three-year research project, which started in July, is funded by a $100,000 grant from the Panamanian government. Sophomore Nora Purcell was also awarded $4,500 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to work on the project for the next two years.

“The importance for us is that we can bring some cutting-edge research to a small, undergraduate liberal arts college,” Abernathy said.

The group tested the technology in Swannanoa River and the Warren Wilson garden. Earlier this month, Abernathy and senior Chris Fusting took the technology to Cocobolo Nature Reserve in Panama to monitor areas that are otherwise difficult or impossible to study, Abernathy said.

Fusting helped program the sensors and hang them in trees to test how they perform in harsh environments. Aber-nathy plans to return in the summer to install the sensors.

“The broader view, in all of this, is if you can keep this stuff out there indefinitely,” Fusting said. “We can monitor real ecosystems from anywhere in the world in real time.”